Ancestral Reverence and Connection
Updated: May 13, 2022
The topic of ancestors and how they factor into our overall health and well-being is surfacing in discussions more and more. In the spiritual arena, it is a subject being strongly focused upon and considered the under acknowledged and “missing” dynamic of spiritual healing, growth and development in western spirituality. While cultures and spiritual practices may vary across the world, one thing is certain: we all have ancestors and they are a force along the spiritual grid yet to be fully tapped.
Ancestor awareness is a growing movement and gradually progressing to the center stage of discussions in the spiritual healing arena in the U.S. Out of these discussions comes the growing awareness of the need for ancestral reconnection and healing of ancestral wounds. There is substantial evidence that connecting to ancestral heritage is foundational to our spiritual development and is supportive of holistic spirituality. This is not a unique perspective. It is very ancient and has been a central part of indigenous practices around the world for thousands of years.
Six million years of human life on the planet. Ancestors date back to the very beginning. This means we all come from a long line of people who were born on this earth, lived and then died and then reborn. This cycle of life has brought us to this very point in time and will continue into eternity. Ancestral reverence and connection taps directly into the collective and familial wisdom of all the ages of the human experience on this planet −confirming the African proverb, “…we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors.”
What exactly is an ancestor as it relates to us directly? An ancestor is a blood relative that was an elder to us during our lifetime and also those that lived and died before we were born. We may or may not have known them directly. They are the souls of family members who are no longer incarnated. This is consistent with the widespread belief that humans have at least two parts--a physical body and some kind of non-physical spirit. The spirit portion is generally believed to be freed from the body by death and continues to exist in another realm. Ancestral spirits are often seen as retaining an active interest and even membership in their family and society. However, just like in life, in death there are categories of ancestors – honored and not honored. The main focus will be on the honored ancestors in this discussion.
An honored ancestor can be qualified by the following criteria, (1) lived until adulthood; (2) was a positive, contributing member of society at the time of death, and (3) non-criminal at time of death. The criteria is important to be able to identify the ancestors who will be called upon. The goal is to reap the beneficial contributions from our family’s past to support and influence our present. Where there are ancestors that did not live a life that contributed positively to society or directly to the family, there are specific measures to take in order to heal that part of the ancestral heritage.
Ancestral reverence is founded on the belief that when the body dies, the spirit does not. The spirit is viewed as eternal and subject to many incarnations. Those ancestors who have crossed over have only shed their physical bodies but continue to live in the spirit realm. Ancestors are connected to the living by DNA which ties them to their descendants and to future generations. Because of their connection and love, they are interested in helping and intervening on their family’s behalf to bring about positive occurrences. The ancestors utilize the fact that they no longer have the limitation of their bodies and can go about the physical and spiritual world as needed to influence matters according to need and destiny.
Ancestral reverence seeks to acknowledge and harness the collective wisdom of those that have gone before in order to gain balance and progress in life. Ancestors work to help us through life’s challenges. They can also help us in our quest for spiritual evolution by acting as spirit guides or tutelary spirits. Spiritual Evolution. That’s where we are headed as humans. Whether we acknowledge, know it, accept it, or not. Evolution is supported by what has gone before. Using historical information from spirit, it builds upon all that the soul experienced prior to make that next leap in development. In order to successfully move forward and evolve spiritually, a solid spiritual foundation is extremely important. One of the essential components of this foundation that was often not seriously considered in western culture, is ancestral connection and reverence. Ancestors support evolution through their dedication to our upliftment as individuals and as a group. They hold and can access the wisdom of the ages.
In nearly all other societies, globally, ancestor reverence is an essential part of the spiritual traditions. It is, in actuality, such an important component that any and all important rites cannot be conducted without first paying homage to the ancestors. In western culture, although on the rise, ancestral reverence and connection seems to have been a forgotten rite on the path of healing and spiritual growth and evolution. This was a crucial piece in our spiritual process. Our western spiritual culture is beginning to catch up and we are beginning to see the benefits.
In spiritual traditions around the world that have existed since ancient times, ancestral reverence is an inherent part. For instance, in the Yoruba Orisha tradition of Nigeria, before any major spiritual ceremony or initiation, the ancestors are consulted through divination and mediumship in order to ensure that all goes well and according to the destiny of the individual. In Ancient Egypt, the funerary rites were elaborate and intricate indicating the deep reverence they held for their deceased. Ancestors were highly honored. In India, China and throughout Asia, ancestor involvement is a natural part of all of their rites of passage, as well as they are consulted through divination on major milestones, both physically and spiritually.
The desire to communicate with our ancestors is an innate part of the human experience. At some point, many people think about their deceased loved ones and long to be able to speak with them again. We intuitively sense their presence in our wisdom bodies and it begs the question: how can we communicate with them? Our ancestors are always around us ready to assist us. They are just a whisper away. They are constantly helping and encouraging us in our movement forward. When we get very still and meditate, they can send messages to us in the form of words, sounds, pictures or feelings. They often come in the form of inspirational thoughts that come to us and feel “true” or “accurate” or “certain.”
The ways in which we can attune to their “frequency” and have direct contact is by utilizing the modalities of prayer, ritual, altar building, song, and dance. Ancestors are also able to visit their loved ones through dreams, visions and during meditations. Creating a ritual container for the ancestors to depend on will make it easier for them to communicate when needed. This container will also serve as a space for communion with your ancestors when you feel the need. Over time you will start to bring your ancestors closer as well as become more keenly aware of their presence. It is important to build a relationship with the ancestors. Your relationship must be nurtured like any other relationship. It takes time, patience, consistency and a strong intention to establish this very powerful spiritual relationship. Ancestral alignment will facilitate the understanding of the power of the ancestors (their roots) and its use in enhancing and healing lives at the deepest level.
Through consistent meditation, music, food and ceremony the bond between you and your ancestor spirits will grow stronger and you will be able to communicate directly with them. Ancestral communication has been an ancient practice in every wisdom tradition throughout time. Your ability to connect with your ancestors is always available. You can create your own personal shrine that you go to and use to invite your ancestors through your prayers. The shrine is akin to a gateway where the ancestors come and go. It’s like preparing a guest room in your house for them where they become familiar and comfortable. They know where everything is. A shrine to your ancestors will have anything that reminds you of your ancestors. You can put pictures of the ancestors, or include things that they love. Once you dedicate a space to build your personal shrine and start with the basic items, you will begin to get ideas of the kinds of things to add that will connect with your ancestors. Your intuition will guide you. This will be a place where you will give offerings of flowers, prayers, candle light and food to them. These offerings not only please them, but also strengthens their ability to intervene on your behalf in the physical world. It also strengthens them for their own spirit journey as they continue their work of spiritual growth and development. The relationship is one of reciprocity.
A note regarding ancestral wounds & healing:
Our inheritance from our ancestral line may also contain areas in need of deep healing. Traumas and negative behaviors can be expressed by a family member who is being affected by the past, specific to ancestral wounds. They can include alcoholism, patterns of abuse, emotional cruelty and dysfunction, religious extremism, racism, sexism, wounds related to money and poverty, predisposition to physical and mental illness, to name a few. Sometimes what is the contributing factor for this to take root, can be found if we go back to either recent or earlier ancestors. These patterns, if properly identified and understood, can be healed (in part or whole) by ritual offerings that help to elevate the responsible ancestor to a healthier status and will disconnect the descendent from the unhealthy ancestral attachment. In this case, the problem ancestor may also act as a catalyst for healing once it has found its own healing. When we help them, we are also helped.
As you can see, there are many reasons that it is important to honor our dead. Building a relationship, communicating, inviting them into our everyday lives will support our life journey and ensure success in our spiritual progress. In healing the recent and long ago familial wounds using ancestral work, brings about multi-dimensional healing.
Ancestral reverence is more than just acknowledging our ancestry, it is accessing ancient wisdom, their love, and their deep healing. It opens us to connecting to the wheel of life that connects us to each other and to our planet.
I am called to further this important work in ways that help spread the medicine of the ancestors. In my work, I’ve helped people connect with ancestors who they knew in life as well as ancestors from generations ago in their family line. The wisdom and the love that they have been able to receive and give has given them a deeper sense of spiritual connection and grounding. In another instance, I helped connect a participant in my workshop with their ancestors. As a result of this connection, they are helping an ancestor work to contribute positively in this timeline to heal in the past where that ancestor had done some not so good things when they were alive. This is important healing of an ancestral wound that will, in turn, unhook the family from the pain that ancestor caused during their life. The ancestors are sending messages of healing and love and want to help us elevate to our next best expression of the Divine.
Some of the ways to connect with the ancestors that will be presented in my workshop are ritual (prayer, libation, altar setup), sacred song, rhythm and movement. Ritual creates an energetic container that invites and welcomes the ancestors. An altar setup is central in ancestral connection as it provides a physical space in your home that becomes a portal – a doorway -- that has a “welcome mat” inviting the ancestors to visit. The ancestors desire to help and love to visit those of us who are still living our day-to-day lives. Prayers help to make our ancestors stronger on their continued spiritual journey. It elevates them as well as ourselves. Incorporating prayer is important in ancestral communication as it elevates the energy connection. Most of us enjoy music and dancing of one sort or another. Our ancestors still enjoy the same. When we sing songs to them and dance in their honor it is another form of communication, welcoming and inviting them to join us in the good feelings that music and dance bring. Drumming, in particular, has been used since ancient times to call the spirits. Certain patterns create an energetic beacon that calls to the ancestral spirits and brings them to the gathering.
Whenever you’re ready, you can build your own ancestral alter in your home. You can start out with a simple setup. All you need is either a table top or a corner on the floor of a room. The living room, kitchen, dining room, family room or any hallway is preferable. It is not recommended to have an ancestor altar in the bedroom. You will need the following items: Pictures of your ancestors. If you don’t have pictures of ancestors you can add make a list of names a place them there. You can also recite their names from time to time when you feel moved. You will also need a representation of the elements -- glass of water, a candle, dish of earth or a stone or crystal, incense holder and incense or a feather, and fresh flowers. If you have any personal items from the deceased you can also add it to the altar. If you want to put a cloth to cover the table top, you can. In the corner of the floor, it is not necessary to have a cloth. Creativity is key. It is good to cleanse the area both physically and spiritually by either smudging with sage, Palo Santo or frankincense. Once you’ve cleansed the area and setup everything, a prayer to bless the altar and invite the ancestors is a nice way to complete the setup. An example of a prayer that can be used is:
Ancestors, I honor you
Spirits of my fathers and mothers, I call to you,
and welcome you to join me (for this night.)
You watch over me always,
protecting and guiding me,
and tonight I thank you.
Your blood runs in my veins,
your spirit is in my heart,
your memories are in my soul.
[If you wish, you may want to recite your genealogy here starting with the most recent -- i.e. mother, father then go back as far as you can. This can include both your blood family, and your spiritual one.]
With the gift of remembrance.
I remember all of you.
You are dead but never forgotten,
and you live on within me,
and within those who are yet to come
I send you blessings of light
I send you blessings of love
Amen. So mote it be.
You can always speak from your heart to the ancestors. Any prayer that you are comfortable with or you know that they liked when they were living is also appropriate. Spend time at your altar periodically and pray and sit with the ancestors. Talk with them. Notice any messages, symbols or ideas that may come to you during this time.
The spiritual part of our lives is our foundation and supports authentic health and well-being in every other area. Ancestor reverence connects us firmly with our spiritual roots in a way that is loving and nurturing. This allows us to understand ourselves within a more circumspect context. Ancestor reverence provides a pathway to healing familial wounds of past generations.
In my workshop, “Ancestral Reverence through Ritual, Sacred Song, and Rhythm & Movement” I seek to assist those who wish to incorporate this wisdom into their lives. The workshop provides more in-depth information and includes topics such as, Ancestral Connection Guided Meditation / Welcome & Gratitude, 7 Chakra Ancestral Alignment, Ancestral Drumming, Song & Movement, Ancestral Altars & Rituals.
I am an ordained Interfaith Minister and initiated Priestess (Yayi) in the Palo tradition of Cuba with roots in the Congo of Africa and a devotee of the IFA tradition of Nigeria. I am also the founder of Sacred Mysteries World Wide which provides teachings in spirituality and healing. Born in Los Angeles and raised in NYC from infancy, I have been on my spiritual journey from a young child. Both my parents were performing artists, so the creative arts shaped my early childhood and life. I, too, became a performing artist as a singer performing in various venues in the United States. My singing work eventually lead me to a performance group in 1987 that focused on Afro-Caribbean folkloric music and dance. It was during that time that I deepened my knowledge and understanding of the music and dance of Africa and the diaspora. In 1996, I began my initiations and training in the secrets of the IFA/Orisha spiritual tradition of Cuba and then in 2001, I was initiated as a Yayi (Priestess) of the Palo Mayombe religion. Both religions are diasporic traditions with roots in Africa. Each has a central component of ancestral veneration and reverence. Through my training in theIFA/Orisha and Palo traditions, I learned practices to venerate my ancestors. It was through divination readings by various priests and high priests that it was confirmed that my calling was to work closely with the ancestral spirits. It is through this work that I will be able to help others on their spiritual journey. In 2016, I was ordained as an Interfaith/Interspiritual Minister so that I can spiritually serve people across all religions and faiths.
During my ordination I made the following vow, “I vow to be rooted in and guided by my highest divine purpose. I vow to be an ambassador of positive change and a vessel of healing, hope, love and light to all those whose lives I come in contact.”
It is with love and devotion that I serve and support the healing and evolution of our human community and of our planet.